Family of Slain Kirkwood Councilwoman Connie Karr Files Wrongful Death Suit Against Whelan Security

UPDATED at 5:05 p.m. with comments from Whelan Security.
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Connie Karr

The spouse and daughter of Kirkwood Councilwoman Connie Karr, who was shot at a city council meeting on February 7, 2008, filed a wrongful death lawsuit last Friday against Whelan Security Company and one of its guards.

The suit contends that Whelan failed in its duty to protect Kirkwood council members and employees on the night that disgruntled citizen Cookie Thornton walked into a public meeting and killed five people before turning the gun on himself. Mayor Mike Swoboda, who was also shot that evening by Thornton, died later.

"They've been grieving for the past two years," says attorney Chet Pleban, who filed the case for Kevin Karr and Connie Karr's daughter, identified only as "L.H." "This is a traumatic event. In part this lawsuit is filed because it gives them some closure."

A written statement from Whelan Security president Greg Twardowski, provided to Daily RFT, reads: "We and our attorneys previously conducted a thorough investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the tragedy and concluded that there is no legal liability attributable to Whelan Security and its employee, Mr. (Ronald) Whitehead."

The lawsuit contends that the Kirkwood City Council in 2006 considered banning Thornton from council meetings because of his "erratic, hostile, violent and/or belligerent behavior" over almost a decade.

Instead, according to the lawsuit, the city elected to hire Whelan to provide security at council meetings.

The lawsuit states that "Thornton's behavior was so erratic, Kirkwood Police Chief Jack Plummer and other City officials discussed the possibility of involuntarily civilly committing Thornton. When Chief Plummer learned of the shootings at Kirkwood City Hall on February 7, 2008, he immediately inquired as to whether Thornton was involved."

Plummer was not immediately available Thursday for comment.

The lawsuit alleges that the Whelan security guard was stationed inside Kirkwood City Hall the night of the shooting. The guard allegedly saw Thornton pull into the parking lot and then went to alert city council members of his presence.

The suit further states:

Thereafter, [the guard] walked down the stairs as Thornton walked past him towards the Council Chambers, carrying a cardboard sign and two handguns, after Thornton had just shot (Kirkwood Police) Sgt. (William) Biggs... As Thornton walked past [the guard], Thornton said, 'Good God Almighty,' and proceeded down the steps.

Inexplicably, [the guard] then left City Hall instead of taking any action while there was still sufficient time to prevent further injury to the City's appointed and elected officials, to include Connie Karr.

Says Pleban, the attorney for the Karr family: "The city of Kirkwood used public monies to pay for security. The person who was assigned that task was not a greeter at Wal-mart."

Twardowski, Whelan's president, in his written statement says: "While our continued condolences go out to the victims and their families, neither Whelan Security or Mr. Whitehead is responsible for the tremendous losses of that day. The claims asserted against us will be vigorously defended, and we are confident that they will be found to lack merit."

Karr's family is requesting actual and punitive damages.

The city of Kirkwood recently said it would not be commemorating the shootings this year.  

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